A sexually transmitted infection is a disease that is contracted through sexual exposure. It is possible that if you have been sexually active at all, you could be at risk of having an STI. Below is more information about these diseases.

How long have STIs been around?

Before 1980 the most common STIs were syphilis and gonorrhea. Since 1980 there are at least 25 new STIs that have been identified, including HIV/AIDS.
Source: Eng TR, Butler WT, eds. The Hidden Epidemic – Confronting Sexually Transmitted Disease. Institute of Medicine. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1997.

Is there really that big of a risk for me to get an STI?

STIs accounted for 87 percent of all cases among the top ten most frequently reported infections in the U.S. during 1997. Five of the top 10 reportable infectious disease in 1997 were either exclusively or largely transmitted during sex, including the top four (chlamydia, gonorrhea, AIDS and syphilis).
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Summary of Notifiable Disease, US 1998. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 1999;47(53):1-93.

How many people are infected with an STI?

In the United States it is estimated that there are more than 68 million current STIs.
Each year, 15.3 million new STI infections occur, including over 3 million infections in teens.
The two most common STIs, herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV), account for 65 of the 68 million current infections.
It is estimated that 20 percent of all Americans age 12 and older are infected with genital herpes.
Source: American Social Health Association. Sexually Transmitted Disease in America: How Many Cases and at What Cost? Menlo Park, .: Kaiser Family Foundation; 1998. Source: Fleming, D, et al. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 in the United States, 1976-1994. N Engl J Med. 1997;337(16): 1105-1111

Are teens more at risk for STIs?

Teen girls have a higher rate of chlamydia, a disease that is a common cause of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility in older women.
At least 10 percent of all sexually active teens are infected with this PID.
Among women, gonorrhea rates are highest among teen girls ages 15-19.
The risk of pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is as much as 10 times greater for 15-year-old females than for 24-year-old females. PID can cause sterility (inability to get pregnant).
Source: Division of STI Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 1999. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), September 2000.
Source: Westrom L. Incidence, Prevalence, and Trends of Acute Pelvic Inflammatory Disease and Its Consequences in Industrialized Countries. American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1980: 138, 880-92.

What is HPV?

Human papilloma virus (HPV) is an STI that causes genital warts.
HPV also causes more than 90 percent of all cervical cancer. Cervical cancer takes the lives of about 5,000 American women yearly, and condoms provide almost no protection against HPV.
It is estimated 5.5 million new infections occur each year with at least 20 million people currently infected.
Source: National Institutes of Health. (April 1-3, 1996). Cervical Cancer: NIH Consensus Development Statement, Online, 43(1), 1-30.
Source: American Social Health Association. (1998, December) Sexually Transmitted Disease in America: How Many Cases and at What Cost? Menlo Park, .: Kaiser Family Foundation.

What age group is at greatest risk for acquiring an STI?

Adolescents and young adults (15-24) are the age groups with the greatest risk for acquiring an STI. Approximately 2/3 of all people who get an STI are under 25. The Center for Disease Control states that adolescents and young adults are at greater risk for many reasons, including:

They may have less immunity (ability to fight a disease) than adults
They may be more likely to have more than one sexual partner
They may be more likely to engage in unprotected intercourse
They may select partners at higher risk
Age at start of sexual activity has decreased while age at first marriage has increased, resulting in more sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
Source: Division of STI Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance 1999. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta: Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), September 2000.
Eng TR, Butler WT, eds. The Institute of Medicine. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 1997.

What about HIV /AIDS? Am I at risk?

An estimated 25% of new HIV infections are found in people under age 22.
An estimated 50% of all new HIV infections occur among people under 25, with the majority being infected by sexual contact with a person carrying the disease.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV Prevention Strategic Plan Through 2005. September 2000.

Which STIs are stopped by using condoms?

Condoms provide some (though not complete) protection against HIV and gonorrhea.
They are less effective protecting against trichomonas and chlamydia.
Condoms provide no protection against bacterial vaginosis, HPV (the most common STI) and herpes.
Source: Cates, W. Jr. & Stone, K.M. (1992, March/April). Family Planning, Sexually Transmitted Diseases and Contraceptive Choice: A Literature Update-Part I. Family Planning Perspectives, 24(2), 75-84

Can STIs be cured?

While medical science has made great advances, the growth of STI infections continue to spread. Chlamydia and gonorrhea can be “cured” with antibiotics, but can leave scars, which often require future treatment and may cause infertility. And certain strains of gonorrhea are becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics.

Viral STIs pose a major problem, because no medical cure has been found for any virus – not even the common cold! This means if a person becomes infected with a viral STI (such as herpes, HPV or HIV) there is no cure. A vaccine for herpes has been rumored for years, but has not yet been produced. Antiviral drugs reduce the number of outbreaks a person with herpes experiences, but they cannot eliminate the outbreaks entirely.

A cure, or vaccine, for the HIV virus is probably years away. We do know, however, that even if vaccines or cures for these infections were available today, the STI problem would not be solved.

Source: Medical Institute of Sexual Health, “Frequently Asked Questions”